With all the discussion on bullying, child suicide, and school shootings these days, I can’t help wonder where we have gone wrong. Of course, these are complex problems with many variables, and comprehensive solutions will be equally complex. Still, I believe that if we were all kinder to each other if we all actually followed the golden rule, at least some of these terrible things could be avoided. We need to teach our children kindness.
Kindness Begins At Home
As parents, it is our duty to teach our children about kindness and raise them to treat others with thoughtfulness and respect. Here are some practical ways to instill kindness in your kiddos.
1) Nix “nice.”
I HATE the word “nice.” “Nice” has become so prevalent and generic that it is almost rendered meaningless. We use it as a superficial substitute for kindness. We use it as a “nice” way of classifying behavior as appropriate or inappropriate. “Be nice to your sister,” we say. “It is not nice to yell,” we admonish. Nice implies in-authenticity. You can be nice without actually being kind. Being nice requires only outward compliance, being kind requires the engagement of the heart. Being nice is really just not being mean, being kind requires action above and beyond. I have made a conscious effort to replace the word “nice” in my vocabulary with something more specific and accurate. “Be kind to your sister,” or “It is disrespectful to yell.”
2) Explain what kindness is.
Children need to be taught. Take time to explain what it means to be kind. Kindness involves putting yourself in the other’s shoes (empathy). It means doing things to make someone happy, to cheer someone up. Kindness means putting someone’s needs before your wants. It requires the giving of one’s time, energy, and self. It is extending friendship, love, and mercy. Use simple, concrete language, but don’t underestimate your child’s ability to grasp the concept of kindness. For example, “Do you see Billy sitting by himself? I’ll bet he is lonely with no one to play with. It would be very kind if you asked him to play with you.”
3) Be a role model.
Let your kids witness you showing kindness to others. Be conscious of your words and how they may be interpreted by your children. If you do or say something unkind to or in front of your children. Admit your mistake and explain how you were wrong. Tell your kids, “I’m sorry I yelled at you when you spilled your milk. I know that was an accident and you felt bad. It was unkind of me to yell.”
4) Be kind in practical ways.
There are so many different ways to show kindness while including your children that I couldn’t even begin to list them all here. Start simple, have your kids go through their clothing or toys and donate items they no longer need/ want. Participate in a Christmas toy drive like Toys For Tots. Buy supplies and create gift boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Buy toys, food and other supplies to donate to your local animal shelter. Kindness doesn’t always have to be shown in material ways. Rake the leaves, cut the lawn, or shovel the walk of an elderly neighbor. Make cards and deliver them to your local nursing home or hospital. Operation We Are Here, and other similar organizations, collect cards for veterans and soldiers serving overseas. Volunteering as a family is another great way you can show kindness to others.
5) Have a Kindness Day.
Designate a day of the week as Kindness Day. Every Monday, or Thursday, or Saturday, or whatever day you choose, do something kind for someone else. Use any of the ideas above or be creative and come up with your own.
6) Random Act of Kindness Challenge.
This works best with older children. Challenge your family to a week or a month of daily Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs). Every member of the family tries to commit at least one RAK every day of the challenge. Everyone can share their RAK’s at dinner or some other family time. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has tons of ideas to keep you going. You can also participate in World Kindness Day, RAK Friday, and RAK week.
7) Talk about it.
Talk to your children about the ways you are showing kindness. Involve them in choosing how to be kind. Discuss how they think their acts of kindness will impact the recipient. Discuss how it makes them feel to show kindness to others.